Moving forward from automation awareness

June 16, 2014

Awareness is a very big word circulating around the industry these days. Awareness about automation. Things like Big Data. More awareness about safety. And a new-found enlightenment about security.

With all the changes, and fears, this awareness brings, it would be easy to just slip back into the old ways of doing things. But that just is not an option anymore.

When looking at automation, it is inevitable the technology will come on and take a firm grasp. Companies need to jump on the bandwagon or else they will end up left behind.

With a stronger push from automation and the benefits it brings, that will push more companies to figure out their security needs because attack vectors will change. When it comes to safety, suffice it to say, with more automation and a need for security, safety professionals need to ratchet it up a few more notches.

The China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), one of China’s three major national oil companies, knows all about the advantages automation can offer.

As the largest offshore oil and natural gas producer in China, CNOOC works with foreign countries for the exploitation of offshore oil and natural gas resources in China’s territorial seas.

As a part of its plan to move forward and capture the essence of what an oil and gas producer does, CNOOC adopted a progressive strategy of employing new automation technologies as the best way to ensure offshore projects are brought into production as quickly as possible with lower operational and maintenance costs as well as reduced man power levels.

This strategy, for CNOOC, should reduce the time required for engineering design, construction, and equipment commissioning. In addition, these automation systems should optimize production assets through real-time monitoring and management of intelligent field devices in order to ensure stable operation of production installations.

Those moves to optimize assets and increase automation should lead to reducing production downtimes and breakdowns and increasing up- time.

To do that requires more data points which leads to an increase in information. As operators, engineers and executives end up deluged with the rush of data coming at them, parsing and under-

standing all that information into chunks of vital, usable facts and figures becomes so much more important. That is where understand Big Data comes into play.

Operators on the platform or in a central control room on shore can analyze these huge amounts of data and use it as an early warning system when problems threaten or highlight a way to safely in- crease production. That knowledge garnered from all that data, in turn, will be able to keep facilities running more reliably and productively.

With new systems and data running from the platform to the head office and back, the communications stream has to remain constant and viable. However, as we have learned in this era of control systems having the potential for bad guys to take them over, the level of awareness of cyber security continues to rise.

Security is an enabler for the business and more folks are becoming aware of that.

“I think there is building level of concern and awareness where we have started building a practice around helping people think through where to start and how to broadly attack the problem and we are making progress in that regard,” said Mike Caliel, president and chief executive of Invensys’ Software and Industrial Automation businesses during a meeting at the ARC Forum in Orlando, Florida, in February.

“I think beyond the cyber dimensions of the problem and system dimensions are the issues around physical assets as well. I think there is a building awareness of people looking at the problem and it is such a complex problem that people just don’t know where to start.”

That understanding will lead to a having a solid security plan in place to ensure the benefits of an open architecture and communication.

Technology in the automation environment has come a long way in the past decade. It has gotten to the point where communication and real time decision making can occur safely and securely from the sensor to the boardroom.

But the time to become aware is over, now the industry needs to start moving toward a stronger automation environment. OEREVIEW

Gregory Hale is editor and founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source ( and is the contributing Automation Technology Editor at Offshore Engineer.

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